New CNE Head Steps In Amid Turmoil

April 3, 2009

Nearly three months after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake leveled 500 homes near Poás Volcano, residents of the area are still living in shelters without electricity, without nearby schools and without access to sanitary bathroom facilities.

It s been three months and nothing has happened, said Maria Teresa Morales, whose home was destroyed following the Jan. 8 earthquake. At a protest of quake victims in front of the Legislative Assembly, she told reporters she is living in a home without light and that children are walking an hour and a half to school because no school has been built closer.

No one is helping us, no government institution, no one, said another victim, Doris Zamora, who was among dozens protesting at the Legislative Assembly this week. Put simply, there is no solution for us here. Meanwhile, the agency responsible for responding to the situation the National Emergency Commission (CNE) is facing accusations of negligence and fraud.

Its headquarters, in Pavas, a western district of San Jose, were raided Tuesday by officials from the country s top anti-corruption prosecutor s office. Investigators searched CNE headquarters, along with the offices of several private firms, for documents relating to the associations of former commission President Daniel Gallardo.

Gallardo, who announced his resignation in March citing personal and health reasons, is accused of awarding sizable contracts to individuals he had dealt with privately.

On Wednesday, the president s Cabinet appointed Vanessa Rosales CNE s new president. Rosales pledged to bring continuity to the office and ensure that current projects are completed effectively.

¨We want to respond to the affected communities for different disasters in the least amount of time possible¨ said Rosales, 47, a civil engineer who worked for the CNE between 2005 and 2006 as an executive director. ¨That is our priority.¨

But as the impending seasonal rains threaten to pollute drinking water and cause dangerous mudslides in the affected area, Rolando Mora from the School of Geology at the University of Costa Rica is concerned that response will not come soon enough.

He was one of several speakers at the protest Wednesday who urged the government to secure the area now so rainstorms don t further threaten the region s inhabitants. Recognizing the uncomfortable living conditions that many victims continue to face, representatives from the Citizen Action Party (PAC) sent a letter to President Oscar Arias, urging him to address the situation.

President Arias, the CNE, IMAS and the ministries are throwing around promises, but nothing is really happening, PAC legislator Patricia Romero said in a statement, the latter a reference to the Mixed Institute for Social Aid. Children continue to go without school, without suitable food, and stress mounts day by day. The truth is that people are living without direction as to whether they can repair their homes or build on their lots. To live in that uncertainty is a violation of human rights.

Reconstruction of the region now falls to Rosales, the new head of the CNE, who has pledged her full support to the Judicial Investigation Police in their investigation of the CNE and Gallardo.

 

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